Stream It or Skip It: ‘The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf’ on Netflix, a Hella-Gory Anime Spinoff Prequel to ‘The Witcher’

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The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf may whet fans’ appetites before the second season of the breakout hit Netflix series The Witcher debuts later this year. For those of you not in the know, the series is a live-action swords-and-sorcery-type fantasy — you know, the kind that’s populated by characters who are all named (something) OF (a place) — led by Henry Cavill, who plays Geralt of Rivia, one of the few remaining witchers, who are kind of like warriors AND wizards all in one hunky package, using their powers to slay all manner of unholy creatures. Nightmare of the Wolf is an animated prequel telling the story of Vesemir, the mentor to Geralt, and a character who’s going to play a key role in Season 2.

‘THE WITCHER: NIGHTMARE OF THE WOLF’: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

The Gist: A snowy, winding road. A horse and carriage stops. A boy gets out to relieve himself on a tree and just as he buttons back up, some crazed vine-like tentacles leap out of the forest and murder his father by blasting through the poor guy’s skull. The boy runs as his sisters are dismembered and blood splatters everywhere and horse guts splatter and mouths shriek their last emanations and eyes see their last images and it’s all rather violent. But then, Vesimir (voice of Theo James) arrives, not a moment too soon but definitely a couple moments too late. The owner of the tentacles is a lesher, a cloaked skullfaced humanoid that can turn itself into a zillion bats, and Vesemir, after some heated magickal combat, burns it alive in a rather disturbing manner as the boy watches — the boy, who’s likely too young to realize that he might be better off dead than living with the imagery of his family being slaughtered in such a gruesome fashion. Other than that, it’s been a perfectly nice day.

We soon learn that Vesemir is a cocky fella, for good reason — he’s a very powerful witcher, of the kind who collect major coin for killing monsters, like leshens and bugbears and gorgorfolens and urds, some of whom I may have just made up, but who can tell? Flashback to Vesimir’s childhood, when he watched a witcher exorcise a skittery many-legged befoulment from within a woman, but not before a lot of her clothes were torn off. Young Vesemir (David Errigo Jr.) dreams of doing more than being just another guy in a village, and tells his girlfriendish friend Illyana (Jennifer Hale) as much. She’d rather just live quietly in a house by the lake and have some children, so it’s sad when he leaves her behind to become a witcher, not knowing that it involves going through some truly traumatic shit, like being dropped in a swamp full of angry beasts and finding out who has the gumption to not die, letting a mage kill you then bringing you back to life, etc. Back in the present, Vesimir hangs at Witcher HQ, bantering with his co-workers and teaching swordsmanship to young witchers-to-be, who we learn are a bunch of orphans and unwanted children, so it’s obviously perfectly OK to make them superpowered by killing them and bringing them back to life!

Elsewhere, the king and his advisors mull over what to do about the out-of-control monster problem. Tetra (Lara Pulver) is a powerful mage who believes the witchers are scumwads who create the monsters in order to kill them and therefore keep business robust. Lady Zerbst (Mary McDonnell) suggests they actually investigate the matter and maybe find some evidence to support such a conspiracy theory beyond just watching a few YouTube videos posted by crackpots. What with one thing and another, Vesemir and Tetra end up partnering to look into the monster matter despite the fact that they don’t trust each other, and wind up fighting some nasties, and learning there’s something about an elf who’s been crossbred with an evil beast and, yes, eventually we’ll learn why Geralt is among the last witchers in the world, and also yes, it’ll be a display of violence that some may deem to be unsightly.

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The entire ultraviolet, nudity-strewn Witcher aesthetic is very Game of Thrones. Otherwise, the anime-spinoff-of-a-successful-Netflix-series routine is very Altered Carbon: Resleeved.

Performance Worth Watching: James is amusing and charismatic as the cocksure Vesemir — and fans will note that he also had a voice cameo as Vesemir in the live-action series.

Memorable Dialogue: Young Vesemir questions the brutality of witcher training: “How many survive these trials?” And one of his teachers replies, “How many are witchers?”

Sex and Skin: Man butt, lady chest and full frontal of a mutant elf lady, but hey, at least the lesher wears a trenchcoat!

Our Take: So yeah, it’s violent, and it gets into the morally fraught witcher backstory, what with the questionable manner in which humans become witchers — don’t call ’em Flatliners — and all the stuff leading to the bad rep Geralt has to contend with. So Nightmare of the Wolf fills in some mythology blanks in a reasonably compelling manner, and uses the anime medium to showcase some of the witchers’ sweet-ass moves, the likes of which are more difficult to convincingly pull off in live action.

Narratively, the story flows in the choppy manner of a screenplay that maybe needs another draft, or a less harsh edit. But it gets across the core plot it needs to, and indulges our bloodthirst with several ripping action sequences punctuated with innards and slop and faces frozen in horror because they just met their maker(s) and enough decapitations to make quota for this subgenre of extreme anime. Speaking of which, we’re privy to a close-up shot in which a severed head bounces into frame and it lingers long enough to make one wonder how such a clean cut could result in a tail vertebrae hanging out the neck, as if the killer made a precision move with a blade to get through the meat and then pulled the head up to stretch out the spine and sever it several inches below the severed-neckline. Am I obsessing over a pointless detail? I think I’m obsessing over a pointless detail. Anyway, perfectly enjoyable Witcher spinoff.

Our Call: STREAM IT. The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf will generally satisfy fans’ yearnings for content, as long as they know what they’re getting into with all the blood and whatnot, and they probably do.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Stream The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf on Netflix

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